Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Joy of Cooking with Kids

At a previous job as a bookseller in the children's department of a large bookstore, I learned quite a bit about literature for little ones. Day after day, I was overwhelmed with both nostalgia upon seeing the titles that I had immersed myself in as a kid (one day, I spent my break eating a sandwich and reading “Sideways Stories From Wayside School”) and fascination with all of the new trends that had cropped up since I had roamed the kid's section as a devoted customer. One development that immediately caught my attention, and that has been only rising in popularity, is that of the cookbook for children.

Up until recently, I rarely had the opportunity to work in a kitchen alongside a child; as a baby-sitter and as a relative, I spent most of the time in the kitchen hurriedly preparing simple meals that I could then place in front of the kid, and hope that it would not end up in a mess on the floor. Then, when my baby-sitting days gave way to internships and full-time work, I hardly was around children at all. Of course, that has since drastically changed; my new job is nothing if not full immersion into the world of the elementary-aged, and younger.

So with the ever-increasing prevalence of baking for kids, and with a classroom full of bright-eyed and eager bakers-to-be, I spent this week working on a variety of cooking projects with the five year-olds I work with. The results were simultaneously heart-warming and delicious; each of the recipes turned out very well, thanks in part to their remarkable ease, which is what makes them all perfect for smaller chefs. But what made the experience so ­encouraging for me personally were the reactions of the children in each step of the process and each question that was brought up along the way. The kids were allowed to wear plastic gloves and to measure ingredients, mix and whisk the food together, touch the batters. They truly lent their over-zealous hands to the creation of their desserts. They let out a chorus of “ooooh!” as I blended brownie ingredients together, they cheered when new components were suggested as toppings or additions to the pie, and their looks of excitement as they smelled the melted chocolate in the no-bake cake were unparalleled.

When each dish was completed, and they took their enthusiastic first bites, it was not just that they were eating a yummy treat: they were eating something that they themselves helped to create, which I believe made each dish all the sweeter.

Easy-Peasey Pudding Pie

1 3.4 oz. box pudding mix, any flavor (vanilla, chocolate, lemon, pistachio, etc.)
1 ¾ cups cold milk
1 ready-made graham cracker pie crust
Toppings (get creative! Strawberries, blueberries, peaches, marshmallows, white chocolate chips, milk chocolate chips, cherries, chocolate sauce, candies...the possibilities are endless)

1. In a bowl, whisk together the cold milk and the pudding mix until well-blended.
2. Pour the pudding mixture into the ready-made crust
3. Carefully place your choice of toppings on the pie
4. Refrigerate about 2 hours, then serve.

Microwave Brownies

Courtesy of The Food Network

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup chocolate chips

1. Put the butter and chocolate into a microwave safe bowl and heat on high for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds to melt the chocolate. Set aside.
2. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar.
3. In a large bowl mix the flour with the baking powder and salt. Add the egg and chocolate mixtures along with the vanilla and stir well to combine.
4. Spray an 8-inch square microwave safe glass pan with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the pan, spread it out evenly, and scatter the chocolate chunks on top. Cook on high for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 3 minutes before cutting and eating.

No-Bake Chocolate Cake

5 oz. milk chocolate
5 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
6 oz. graham crackers
½ cup light corn syrup
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup raisins
1 cup mini marshmallows
(Other possible add-ins are dried apricots, sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts)

1. Prepare an 8-inch square baking dish by lining it with aluminum foil, and lightly spraying with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Place the graham crackers in a sealed plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin until the crackers are in small bite-sized pieces.
3. In a saucepan over low heat, melt together the chocolate, the butter, and the corn syrup. Stir until blended. Remove from heat; add the graham cracker pieces, the raisins, and the marshmallows. Stir to combine.
4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish and press down until the dish is evenly filled. Refrigerate about 2 hours. Then, serve and enjoy.

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